No more “X marks the spot” ballots. No more long waits as votes are manually counted. And a second chance to correct a spoiled ballot.
Creston voters will be experiencing their first electronic voting ballots when they go to the polls to elect a mayor and six councillors on Saturday. Already, 273 voters (down 13 from 2011) have used the new, larger ballots, which they slid face down into a machine the size of an old office copier. A quick beep indicated their ballot had been scanned and accepted.
“The biggest changes are in how ballots are marked and in tabulating the final vote count,” said chief election officer Bev Caldwell.
Beside each name on the ballot — mayoralty candidates on top and council candidates below — are two arrows pointing in opposite directions. Casting a vote is made by connecting the arrows.
When placed in the vote counting machine, the ballot is rejected and spit back out if too many candidates’ names have been marked, or if the mark doesn’t join the arrows.
“When the ballot is rejected by the machine, the reason for the rejection will be relayed to the voter and the voter will have an opportunity to take the ballot back and have a new one reissued,” Caldwell said. “If the voter wants to leave the ballot as is, then the machine can ‘override’ the problem and then the ballot will be accepted [as spoiled], but the machine will not count the portion that is incorrect in any way.”
Caldwell reminds voters that they are not obligated to vote for a mayor and six councillors. A ballot with even one preference marked is accepted by the counting machine.
When the polls close at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Caldwell’s biggest task will be in clearing the room, ensuring only authorized persons are present. Then, she estimates by 8:30, she will press a button and the election results will be printed out within seconds.
Unless, of course, the machine malfunctions (town hall has a backup generator in the event of a power outage). In that case, Caldwell and her team will collect the ballots from the locked box at the base of the voting machine and start counting manually, as they have in the past. That process can take a couple of hours.